Mantis Care Information
This live mantis care sheet is based on over 10 years of experience raising large numbers of praying mantises as pets and answering people's questions about them.
Please keep in mind that any live insect caresheet on the Internet will likely reflect the experiences of a single person. While I like to think my credibility is high, due in part to the fact I own the mother of all mantis websites--Mantidforum.Net, I would like to be very clear about the benefit of owning a good book on the subject. There is really only one out there and I will not pretend that my mantis caresheet even begins to cover what is available in the book "Praying Mantids Keeping Aliens", by Orin McMonigle. While the caresheet below is undoubtedly one of the best and most extensive online care sheets on the subject, I make no effort here to write an entire book's worth of content. Please feel free to email me with specific questions. Also, please read the section about Buying Mantises if you are considering your first pet mantis. There are some important things you should be aware of.
Having said that, live praying mantids (the words mantis and mantid are roughly interchangeable) are not difficult insects to keep as pets. However, when they are newly hatched (1st instar) you have to check their condition almost daily. Through the third instar (the third instar is the stage after they've shed their skin twice) they should be watched over closely. Each subsequent instar results in a more stable, stronger pet. I don't recommend buying a live pet praying mantid that is less than 3rd instar. Mantises generally shed their skin about 7 times. Females often shed their skin one or two times more than males. This allows mantises from the same clutch (siblings) to mature at different times, which in turn prevents inbreeding in nature. While inbreeding is an issue for many insects, I've seen no clear evidence of it in mantises.
Above are some rare photos capturing that brief moment of birth as the baby praying mantises slide out of their individual cylindrical cells within the egg-cases. (edit: when I took the photos back in 2001 this was one of the first images on the web of the event, however the hobby has grown and more people have digital cameras these days.)
One question I'm commonly asked is whether certain species are difficult. With few exceptions, the care instructions provided below will apply to most mantis species. Yes, orchid mantises are easy to keep alive. They are the same as all other mantids, but do fall into that category of bugs that have a little bit of extra trouble during the molting process, due to their unusual morphology. Their widely-lobed, petal-like legs make the molting process more difficult than it is for their thin-legged relatives. This doesn't mean these are a difficult pet. It simply means you must be a little bit more careful about the humidity levels for these bugs. Additionally, very small mantis species (like Miomantis spp.) hatch out incredibly small and do best on feeder insects which are smaller than the smallest fruit flies available on the market. Live springtails are an okay food source for the first instar of Miomantis, though small strains of live Drosophila melanogaster fruit flies work better. Finally, exotic pets like the devil's flower mantis are difficult because they're one of the few captive species that lack the typical suction cups on the bottoms of their feet. This make it impossible for them to climb glass or plastic, requiring them to need very special cages that provide many footholds while retaining humidity.
After reading this, you will still probably have to experiment a bit to really fine tune your methods. As with rearing any captive animal the goal is to most closely mimic the animal’s native habitat and environmental conditions.
There are only a few critical factors for successfully raising young mantids, and disregarding even one of these for just a few days could result in death.
Buying Live Mantises
Live Foods or Feeders
Buying Live Mantises
I recommend that you never buy 1st or 2nd instar mantises, even if the price seems like a bargain. A breeder or seller with the new hobbyist's best interest in mind will not sell mantises that young for several reasons. One, they don't ship well and are more sensitive to hot or cold temperatures. Two, they require very small live foods the size of fruit flies and tend to starve more quickly than older mantises. Most people do not have access to foods this small, nor should they. I get a little (privately) upset when people ask if they should buy a fruit fly culture which produces THOUSANDS of fruit flies, all to feed one tiny little mantis. A fruit fly culture should be used if you have a few dozen live mantises. There is no reason to condemn one thousand live flies to a pointless death when your single mantis will only eat a few flies every day. Plus, fruit fly cultures only last about 1-2 months at most. Three, hatchling mantises need to be looked after almost daily. Four, many people want to move them into a nice, big new home while the perfect size container for a newly hatched mantis is about 3 inches tall by 1 inch wide. Finally, it is common for a few mantises from an egg case to die and you're taking a chance at buying a runt and not knowing it. Always buy mantises that are at least 3rd instar and you will be much better off (and so will the mantis)! This way you know you are purchasing a successful, healthy predator. From that point on, your mantis will get stronger with each subsequent molt (shed).
Egg cases-- If you plan to buy an egg case, please also plan to buy a native species that you can hatch outside. If you buy an egg case from a nursery or garden store, you are 99% of the time buying Chinese Mantis egg cases which have been collected during the winter months while they are overwintering (note: "Chinese Mantises are considered a native species in the US as they are endemic beneficial insects). Do not try to attempt to raise them all indoors. Keep a few for yourself to be responsible for and let the rest go in your garden. If you keep them all together, they will soon begin to feed on each other. If you separate them...WHOA, that's A LOT of work, and mouths to individually feed (this is where fruit fly CULTURES come in!
Note: When available, I ship house fly pupae with the orders I ship out...usually enough to cover the first week or two of feedings. The pupae (like cocoons) usually hatch in 2-5 days, and might be hatched into adult flies when you receive your order. Simply put the adult flies in the freezer (extra pupae are okay too if they're mixed in) for 2-4 minutes. The flies will be too cold to move. You can then drop them in your mantis habitat. After about 5 minutes they'll start to move again and feeding will commence!
Let's begin by stating that mantises are predatory insects that feed on other live bugs. All mantises are cannibalistic, though there are species in the hobby that are considered more "communal". All hatchling mantises are okay to keep together, though after they shed their skin into the second instar many species will start to show an interest in preying upon their own kind. An example of species that are communal are ghost mantises. Chinese and giant Asian mantises are both highly cannibalistic. If you are planning on keeping mantises in the same enclosure, plan to lose a few. Provide plenty of surface area in the cage through additional "furniture" in the form of sticks, bark, etc. Textured, vertically placed items also provide the perches for the mantises to molt from. If very consistent food is not offered, the mantises will begin to show an interest in each other.
The size of your pet's habitat is an important factor for success. Young mantises do better is small enclosures for a couple reasons. It is easier for them to find their food and it is easier for you to know whether the food is still present or not. Creating a habitat is a fun part of the pet mantis experience. You can design your cage around the type of mantis you are raising. A silk orchid flower, for example, is a nice addition to an orchid mantis cage. An assortment of dried leaves and branches provides for an interesting decor for a dead-leaf mantis.
The often-quoted rule of thumb for cage size factors in the length of your mantis. The cage should be 3X as high and 1 to 2X as wide (as your mantis is long). Exceptions to this rule are several: For a breeding pair, a ten gallon habitat container or larger is recommended. I also tend to keep 1st instar nymphs that have just hatched from an egg case all together. Cannibalism is rare at that stage, especially if you keep a good supply for fruit flies available.
I like to provide as much ventilation as possible for my mantids, but the trick is to keep the humidity up, so cross-ventilation is a key factor. I drill about eight 1/8 inch holes in them on differing sides to provide cross-ventilation. I also put a piece of plastic screen, etc. along at least one "side" of the vial. It should scale the entire height of the vial, so that the mantid will find it when it is ready to molt. You'll probably find that the mantid spends most of its time here though anyway.
Temperature requirements for habitats vary slightly with some species, but room temperature is just fine for most. Tropical species do better in warmer habitats. Temperature plays its most important role during the incubation stage of the mantid egg-cluster (or ootheca…plural= oothecae...AKA egg case). Some species will hatch at room temperature while others prefer 90 degrees F, and still others require diapause (a seasonal hibernation period).
Egg cases (oothecae) of tropical species typically take about 2 months to hatch. They should be kept about 10-15 degrees above room temperature, if possible. If kept at room temperature, they may take longer to hatch. I recommend keeping the ootheca of the average "backyard" species at about 75-80 degrees F. Tropical species may do well in that range or slightly warmer. You must occasionally expose the ootheca to a moderate level of humidity. Some people take this to an extreme and by gauges to fine tune the humidity, but this isn't necessary. Egg cases are somewhat susceptible to drying out, but occasionally misting the incubation container will keep this from happening. Never mist so heavily that the sides of the container don't dry out after a few hours. One mistake people make in overwintering oothecae indoors is a failure to expose them to some humidity. If you find an ootheca outdoors, consider that it is a native species that is used to surviving your local winters with all the seasonal patterns of humidity. Dehydration is the number one cause of them not hatching, although if there is too much moisture in the incubation chamber/container, mold may develop on or in the ootheca. Also, it is best to hang the ootheca from the top of the container, as the mantises will use gravity to aid their hatching (see picture, above).
Many people email me with questions about egg cases that their native, wild-caught mantises have laid. These species do need a diapause (overwintering period). I recommend you place the mantis egg case in a paper lunch bag and set it in a covered area, outdoors. The paper bag will allow the egg case exposure to both the normal temperatures and humidity that egg cases would normally experience in your particular climate. It is advisable to check on the case occasionally, just to make sure it hasn't hatched. Baby mantises will starve in 5-9 days (approximately), if unfed. More information about caring for the young is detailed in the food section, below.
Click the thumbnail photo below for a larger picture showing the direction a mantid cluster is typically laid in nature. It is not terribly important to hang them the same way in captivity, although it may facilitate an easier exit in dry or less than perfect conditions. The individual cells form a slight C-shaped curve. The C should be pointed with the opening down, so that it looks like this- n. Okay, that's the best letter I could find on the keyboard to illustrate the direction and it's very exaggerated. Another method is to feel the texture of the central (light-colored) band. Running your finger along the band, it should feel smooth from top to bottom and rough from bottom to top. If this doesn't make sense, try it. You'll feel it (not all species' oothecae exhibit this textural characteristic). I recommend hanging the ootheca at an angle (somewhere between 45 and 90 degrees, is best) with the band facing down. Gravity will aid the hatching nymphs. Note: many mantis species have ootheca that are so unusual in shape and structure that it is impossible to know what direction to hang it. Even within a single species shape and size are variable. If in doubt, don't worry too much. You can glue the ootheca to the side of a container or the top using a low-heat glue gun. Or glue it to the top, but be sure that whatever surface you glue it against, it provides for the following two conditions. One, that the egg case is against a non-breathable surface. Egg cases are sensitive to drying out and this is probably the most common cause of cases that don't hatch. Two, that it is hung 3-4 inches or more from the bottom of the habitat so that the hatching mantises can descend (hatch) properly.
For young hatchlings (also called nymphs) as well as juveniles and adults, I put paper towel down on the bottom, and wet it moderately, although various other water-retaining substrates are effective. Coconut fiber substrate is ideal for well-ventilated cages (but not as ideal for cleaning as paper towels). Temperature and ventilation will affect how long it takes for the substrate to dry. In the interest of convenience, about 2-3 days should be the goal for how long before you need to mist again (as well as feed). Now, you don't want so much water vapor in there that it is collecting and remaining on the sides. Too much humidity/not enough ventilation can greatly promote the growth of mold on any remaining food particles, mantid-waste, and other organics.
Sexing your mantises can be difficult when they are young. As they get older it gets easier to distinguish males from females because the distance between the abdominal segments increases. When viewed from the underside (not topside), males have 8 abdominal segments and females have 6. Start counting from the segment just after where the back legs attach to the thorax and finish at the posterior tip of the abdomen.
In temperate regions, mantises hatch in the spring and die as winter approaches. Very occasionally, somebody reports a wild caught mantis living into the new year, but this is rare. Most probably die in December at the latest. In captivity, both temperate and tropical species live about a year from hatching to death. Males often mature sooner than females and have shorter adult life spans.
Live Foods AKA Live Feeder Insects
I recommend feeding the mantids as much of a variety of foods as is possible. Flying insects are always preferred, although I don't advocate feeding mantids other environmentally beneficial insects, like bees (which also sting and bite in some cases). Many people do feed bees to mantises, but unless you know a bit about bees, it's advisable to stay clear of them. Crickets are ok, but I'd be careful with them. Pet store crickets should be transferred to a healthy diet for at least 48 hours, before feeding to your mantids. It's not terribly important, but a mantis is what it eats! A bit of oatmeal, romaine lettuce and a chunk of potato for moisture are suitable foods for your feeder crickets. Ants, especially in numbers, can bite and damage mantises, so steer clear! After many years in being an informational resource for the mantis hobby, I do feel it necessary to state what may or may not be obvious....mantises require LIVE foods! They will not want to eat something unless it is moving. Additionally, the prey item (also called a "feeder" or "feeder insect") must be the appropriate size. If you look at the forelegs of your mantis (the front, grasping "arms"), their size should help you gauge the appropriate prey-size. The mantis must be able to hold the prey in its arms. There is some room for error in this method, as mantises will often take down prey smaller and/or larger than their "ideal" prey, but you will learn through experience.
Ideally, the mantid's abdomen will usually look quite plump, but not to the point of bursting. Never feed the mantid more than 2 proportionately sized crickets at a time. I'd recommend one cricket every other day, or so.
Menu for Mantises based on size: (note: there are 2 kinds of fruit flies typically offered. Drosophila melanogaster are the small ones. D. hydei are about 3 times as large and better used for 2nd or 3rd instar mantises. I use flightless fruit flies, exclusively. However, if you only have a few mantises, you can build a fruit fly trap by placing a bit of fruit in a container with a few small holes in it or a lid ajar. When you see a few flies in it, simply pop the container in the freezer for about 2 minutes and the flies will cool down to the point of not being able to move. Drop them in with your mantis and they'll come back to life as they warm up a few minutes later. If yours don't come back to life after about 5-10 minutes, this means you left them in the freezer too long.)
1st instar: fruit flies or springtails (only the smallest species need springtails. I do not sell any mantises that require springtails.)
2nd instar: fruit flies
3rd instar: fruit flies and house flies or small crickets or small roaches
4th instar: house flies and small crickets or small roaches
5th instar: same feeder insects as 4th instar, but slightly larger
6th instar: same but larger
7th instar: same
8th instar: adult crickets, blue bottle flies and roaches (variety is good)
Note: Adult males of some species are considerably smaller than adult females, so be sure to feed them more according to their size than by the outline above.
Schedule of feeding:
1st & 2nd instar- daily or every other day, about 1-3 flies depending on abdomen thickness
3rd-5th instar- every 1-3 days
6th instar to maturity- every 1-3 days (larger food, of course)
gravid (pregnant) females- they should eat everyday and appear quite plump.
Except with gravid females, you should avoid feeding a plump-looking mantis, as your mantid is possibly near its time of molting, and could be damaged during this sensitive time by uneaten feeder insects. A few days prior to molting (shedding the skin), the mantis will typically stop eating and may appear skinnier and "look" hungry. This is not the case. This helps to reduce its size just a bit, before it sheds its old skin. And mostly, the new skin has already begun to grow beneath the old skin. You might notice that your mantis "bats" at prey to scare it away. It is imperative that you remove all feeder insects if you suspect your mantis is about to molt/shed. Uneaten feeders, especially crickets, will either eat the soft-skinned mantis or knock it down from it's molting-perch (the process of molting is a very vulnerable time). It is recommended that you don't even touch the cage for fear that the mantis might not have set its foot-holds well enough. A mantis that falls while molting will die within 48 hours about 75% of the time. The rest of the time it will live for a few days or weeks, disfigured, half in the molt and half out. I'd opt to place the dying mantis in the freezer, to quickly end its suffering, but that's your moral call and I've ceased to discuss such things with everyone. People with opinions tend to be pretty sure of them and I can't really relate anymore to a single mantis pet with a name, after raising many thousands.
A few signs of the pending molt include the following: cloudiness of skin coloration, thickening of the wing "buds" (these get larger with every molt, eventually becoming full wings for most species in the pet hobby), behavioral differences like lack of energy or interest in food.
Breeding mantids is probably the most difficult part of raising them. It is a well-known fact that the female will often make a meal of the male. This is an occasional occurrence in nature and a frequent one in captivity. It is true that the male can complete copulation without the presence of his head which is sometimes bitten off and eat during the act! However, I’m always very careful to protect my male if the female does not appear receptive to him.
After the female has been mature for a few weeks, introduce HER to the MALE’S cage. He will already have his perch staked out, and she may not even see him. He’ll be waiting and ready though, sensitive to any movement in his habitat. Ideally, you will have enough room to get your hands in there to intervene, should the situation “get ugly”.
Prior to introducing them feed the mantids (especially the female) up very thoroughly. Her abdomen should be quite plump before you introduce her to the male, probably with a week's worth of daily feedings. Often, I will put her in his cage while she is still eating! This is an excellent way to distract her, and to keep her from grabbing him.
Okay, so she’s in with him now. I usually arm myself with a nice pair of forceps and a dull toothpick or stick. In the event of an attack by her, it is imperative that you act very quickly! If she has the chance to sink her mandibles into him, it will be too late. Open wounds usually mean death for a mantid. However, if she is only just gripping him, you can carefully (3 hands work much better than 2) pry them apart. Wait a few days before introducing them again. I might even take the female into another part of the house, or outside, in the hopes that there will be no exchange of pheromones (and possibly over-saturation...so the theory or myth? goes).
Mating seems to last anywhere from ½ hr. to 6 hrs, although I’ve seen males remain on females’ backs for days (it's the only somewhat safe place in the cage). I always choose to separate the male when the act is done, especially if I'm not sure whether they mated while I was sleeping and I (we) might need his services again. Otherwise, he will inevitably end up as a meal. One mating is enough to fertilize all her future egg cases, and females will often lay upwards of 5 if they are well cared for. It is good to re-mate her if that is an option, but it rarely is as male mantises often die within 2 months of maturing, while females live for 3 to 6. Since males molt fewer times, I recommend keeping your males in a cooler place and offering them less food if you are going to try to time their maturing with the females. Warmer temperatures and frequent feedings result in faster growth.
If your mantises seem disinterested in each other and if the female doesn't appear annoyed or aggressive towards the male, you might eventually choose to leave them together for a few days (or more). While it is comforting to visually confirm that your mantises have mated, we don't always get that opportunity.
Now, if a female does not have access to a male, she will often produce a non-viable ootheca (an unfertilzed egg case- i.e. a "dud"). A few species of mantids are parthenogenetic, like Brunneria borealis of the Southern USA. This means that females can actually produce viable oothecae, although the offspring will essentially be clones of the mother and no males will be present. Note: B. borealis is the only mantis that shows up in captivity that is consistently capable of breeding via parthenogenesis. It ranges from Texas to Florida and is thin, stick-like, and green and about four inches long.
If a female has already begun to produce an ootheca within her, but has not yet begun to lay it, a late arriving male will still be able to fertilize her eggs. After mating, it may take from a day to several weeks or more before she lays the ootheca, depending on whether she was preparing one within her already and whether she has eaten enough to provide the energy needed to form the egg case.
Various, familiar problems sometimes occur with our pet mantises. Most of these are preventable, but not always.
Molting problems are the leading cause of preventable death for most pet mantises. Please read the topics above for information on prevention of issues during that process where the mantises shed their skin / exoskeleton.
One issue that is common is the sudden appearance of a black liquid on the walls of your pet's habitat. This is fairly rare, but almost always results in death. Theories on the source of why a mantis will sometimes get sick include bacterial infection. This may be prevented with regular changes of substrate and removal of left over parts of feeder insects. I've also noticed that mantises will sometimes excrete surplus liquids via a spraying action. This excretion will turn powdery white in a dry cage, or brownish and sticky in a humid one.
If your pet mantises experience any kind of problems, please feel free to contact me and I will get back to you promptly.